English National League
RFU reveal details of league shake-up
Scrum.com
November 15, 2008
Martyn Thomas, Chairman of the RFU Management Committee pictured during the press conference held at Twickenham in Twickenham, England on November 15, 2007.
RFU Management Board Chairman Martyn Thomas insists the new set-up will "give the clubs more financial security than ever before" © Getty Images
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Major changes to the shape of English club rugby will take place next season following the approval of proposals to create a 12-team Championship division and to restructure competitions for teams in Levels Three to Six of the league system.

The RFU Council last night backed recommendations from the RFU Management Board for the Championship to form a new professional tier below the Guinness Premiership, with Council voting against an amendment deferring its formation until 2010/11.

It also approved recommendations from the Rugby Landscape Task Group that include discontinuing the National Trophy and Intermediate Cup competitions; expanding the leagues at levels three and four to 16 clubs per division and at levels five and six to 14 clubs per division; the introduction of National Championship Finals; and the introduction of reserve leagues at levels three, four and five.

"Council spent three and a half hours debating these important issues and I thank them for giving them such careful consideration," said Martyn Thomas, the Chairman of the RFU Management Board.

"Negotiations over the reduction of the size of First Division Rugby have been taking place since November last year and there was universal agreement that moving to a 12-club league was the way forward.

"It is the best way to ensure a high level of competition that will accelerate the development of young English players, coaches and referees, and Council decided that the journey should start as soon as possible.

"Clearly the league will not become fully professional overnight and there is much detail to be put in place but we look forward to doing so with stakeholders from First Division Rugby, the National Clubs Association [who represent levels three and four] and the Professional Rugby Players Association."

Further discussions will take place about a meaningful fixture list that will guarantee a minimum of 32 games for Championship clubs each season consisting of league games and other competitive matches, including a proposed two-tier Anglo-Welsh competition.

Live television coverage has been secured with the agreement of Sky and Championship clubs will receive projected central funding of £3.5million in 2009/10 that will rise to £4.8m by season 2015/16.

At the end of this season one club will be promoted from the existing National League One into the Guinness Premiership, five clubs will be moved to Level 3 and one promoted from Level 3 to form the Championship.

Council also approved recommendations from the Rugby Landscape Task Group that will make other significant changes to the structure of the game in England.

In the new structure, the Championship will sit above a new National League One, National Two North and National Two South, and four divisions in the National Three tier.

From 2009/10 the new National One, National Two North and National Two South division will increase in size from 14 to 16 clubs. The four National Three divisions (London, Midlands, North and South West) will increase in size from 12 to 14 clubs.

Other changes include the introduction of National Finals at levels four, five and six; discontinuing The National Trophy and Intermediate Cup competitions; the creation of a reserve team competition for the 104 second teams from clubs in National 1, 2 and 3 - and suitable teams from levels two and six - followed by national finals; and a review of the existing county championship competition.

"The competitive structure is critical to the sustainability of our member clubs," said Terry Burwell, the RFU Director of Tournaments and Competitions. "Providing a dynamic league programme for all levels of the game will ensure increased competitiveness and commercial attractiveness.

"The Rugby Landscape consultation process has been robust and well-received and has succeeded in providing an agreed solution in a very short timescale. We can now move forward to implementing the new structure for 2009/10."

The Task Group was chaired by RFU Senior Vice President John Owen, who thanked the thousands of participants who took part in the consultation process.

"We were delighted to be able to engage 7,500 people from all parts of our game who responded to our online survey and made their views known," said Owen. "We also staged 11 roadshows around the country and a two-day summit in Woking to make sure we delivered changes that would be of lasting benefit to our clubs."

What happens at the end of season 2008/09?:

Level 1: Guinness Premiership - 12 clubs.
One team relegated to new Championship

Level 2: National One (currently 16 clubs)
One team promoted to Guinness Premiership, one team relegated from Guinness Premiership, five relegated to level three

Level 3: National Two (currently 14 clubs)
One promoted to new Championship, four relegated to level 4, five teams down from level 2, two teams up from National Three North and South

Level 4: National Three North & South - (currently 14 clubs)
Two champions promoted to new National One, bottom two in each division relegated, four teams down from level 3, six come up from level five

Level 5: Divisional One (currently four divisions of 12 clubs)
Four champions and two play-off winners promoted, two teams relegated to level 6, four teams down from level 4, 12 come up from level 6

Level 6: Divisional Two (currently eight divisions of 12 clubs)
Eight champions and four play-off winners promoted, no teams relegated, two teams down from level 5, 26 teams up from level 7 depending on 14 or 12 team leagues in new structure

The new league structure for season 2009/10:

Level 1: Guinness Premiership - 12 clubs.
+One team relegated to the Championship

Level 2: The Championship - 12 clubs (currently 16), replacing National One
+22 regular season games
+Play-offs to decide one promotion and one relegation place
+Teams to participate in proposed two-tier Anglo-Welsh competition
+Minimum of 32 games each season per team

Level 3: National One - 16 clubs (14), replacing National Two
+30 regular season games
+Champions promoted and bottom three relegated at end of season 2009/10

Level 4: National Two North & South - 16 clubs (14), replacing National Three North & South
+30 regular season games in each league
+Two champions promoted and bottom three teams in each league relegated at end of season 2009/10
+Promotion play-off for sides finishing second in each league
+The two champions meet in National Final

Level 5: National Three (four divisions) - 14 clubs (currently 12), replacing divisional leagues
+26 regular season games
+Four champions promoted and bottom three in each league relegated at end of season 2009/10
+Two more teams promoted after play-offs between second-placed sides
+Four champions meet in National Semi-finals and Finals

Level 6: Divisional 1 (eight divisions) - 14 clubs (or less if agreed, currently 12)
+26 (or less if agreed) regular season games
+Eight champions and four play-off winners promoted, bottom three in each league relegated at end of season 2009/10
+Eight champions participate in National Quarter-finals, Semi-finals and Finals

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